Positive Interactivity: A New Way to Relate in Ministry

by Sr. Susan Wolf, SND on September 20, 2010

in Catholic, ministry, social media, Uncategorized

The whole world of social communications is concerned with relationships: among persons, groups, whole peoples…

This impressive development of social networks, of content and information exchange, of the desire to comment on and intervene in every discussion of every topic, tells us that the Internet has given rise to an omnidirectional flow of transversal and personal communications, the scope of which was unimaginable until very recently.

One of the biggest challenges facing us at present is that of interactivity, and, I would say, of “positive interactivity.” How ought we to tackle this challenge at all levels of Church life?” (Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, Director of the Vatican Press Office in a lecture given on May 18, 2009 at the Diocese of Westminster’s seminary in London. For full text and audio, click here. Bold emphasis is added.)

Let’s talk about that challenge of “positive interactivity” at the level of everyday ministry. Moving from one-way communications to “positive interactivity” in our ministries is a dramatic shift that demands a new way of thinking about our relationships. Most of us are serving many people in a variety of ways. However, we can be so busy carrying out our responsibilities that we don’t realize how important it is to ask for input from stakeholders when we are planning our projects, for feedback on our processes, for comments or questions from those we are serving—interactions that people are coming to expect in every area of their lives, including church.   I cringe when I hear ministers say: “I don’t have time to be dealing with all of these emails.” Or worse yet—I don’t use email, it is too time consuming.” These emails are from the people we serve. If email is too much for us—then social media communications are way beyond us.

And yet social media can help us to organize our interactivity to greater purpose and to engage people authentically. When planning an event or new program—why not create an online survey for the stakeholders and get their input? When we do that we will get some ideas we never thought of and we will get buy-in from our stakeholders if they believe that their input is valued. When preparing a communication about an event—why not send the draft to a cross section of people and ask for their input?  For ongoing activities—why not create a blog or a Facebook group or page, for example, to support parents of children preparing for the sacraments, or participants in the RCIA process? You give your input and let them share with you and with one another their questions and insights.

Before you collapse at the thought of more work, remember, we don’t have to do this by ourselves. There are many people on the Internet already. Ask around. There is probably someone in your community, office, parish or diocese that can help you to get started or even manage the whole thing for you. Also, just take one step forward in one of your ministry areas and build from there. You don’t have to do everything that is possible in every ministry right now. As ministers we need to be facilitating positive interactivity, not blocking it. Let’s get started today.

What are you doing to promote positive interactivity in your ministry? Your comments and questions are most welcome.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Hendey September 20, 2010 at 7:34 pm

I love this topic, as that element of “interactivity” is really what makes social media “social” isn’t it?

I think many people are put off by the perceived time dump of much of social media. In speaking with folks, I try to encourage them to use the technologies as “tools, not toys” stressing to them that I’m not recommending a site like Facebook as a place to hang out and play all day, but rather as a free, easy and effective means of communication.

In my own writing, I try to build open ended questions into my blog posts — just as you did here — to promote conversation. Of course we have the responsibility of moderating the social elements of our media, of keeping things uplifting and Christian, and that can sometimes be a challenge too! I’ll be anxious to hear what others have to say on the topic.

Marc Cardaronella September 20, 2010 at 10:01 pm

I think for those of us in ministry, social media brings an unparalleled opportunity to interact with people we would never get a chance to meet and get feedback from those we serve. As a Church worker, I’m often only surrounded by Church people…the people in my programs or on my teams. It’s my job to minister to the ministers most of the time. But on the internet, there is the opportunity to boldly reach where I can’t often. It takes a certain amount of courage and most people need to be at a certain place to walk into the parish and talk to me about RCIA. However, I can put comments and teaching out on the internet and reach anyone who’s searching but may not be at a place where they’re ready to talk to someone about the Catholic Faith. As well, social media provides an opportunity to ask questions and get easy feedback from the people already in the programs in order to serve them better.

Social media is really just an extension of the communication and relationship that should already exist in an organization. A very convenient, easy and fast one.

Mike Hayes September 21, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Great stuff here. How many places could be servicing so many people more effectively if they would just be able to engage themselves in social media?

A small quibble. If a tweet, tweets in the middle of the woods, it still doesn’t make a sound. We still need to hustle in other ways to get the attention of a world that is all too engaged in other matters that keep them from church and engaging more deeply in spirituality. The importance of physical presence is also paramount and that means going where they are and getting noticed, being involved in the community and making your voice heard in other places online.

Andrew Pautler September 21, 2010 at 9:59 pm

Wow, so many great points in this article. In my opinion, as a young adult within the Catholic Church, the Church as a whole is missing out immensely by not tapping into the vast opportunities found within social media. There are millions of people out there that are easier to reach than ever before and yet the Church for the most part is not doing anything about it. At a time in the Church’s history where it is losing members at an astounding rate (http://newcitycatholicchurch.com/this_project/health_of_church), it can not afford to do this.

I think one of the best points of this article is that church leaders don’t have to do this alone. With the rising average age of priests, most priests don’t know how to use Facebook, Twitter, etc. As a result, their parish does not have any sort of social media in action. If they would only reach out to the pews and tap into the wealth of people willing to help, the potential for growth is amazing.

Another great point in the article is the idea that “You don’t have to do everything that is possible in every ministry right now.” I think a lot of parishes and parish leaders are paralyzed by all that they *could* do. As a result, they do nothing. Instead they should focus on small areas they could improve and work from there. On my site, NewCityCatholicChurch.com, I focus on these small ways that parishes and the entire Catholic Church can improve and contemporize itself, which in the end can have a *big* impact.

Joyce Donahue September 22, 2010 at 7:50 am

In speaking with parish leaders, I often hear from them that they are overworked and do not feel they have the time to do anything significant with social networking… or I watch them put out a tentative project – a Facebook page, for example, but not follow through and it quickly becomes inactive when they do not get any immediate response. Delegating ministry – taking the time to find the right person with the time and talent to help – is probably one of the most difficult things to do. Even more than the time it takes, this is actually more about our leaders’ ability to discern gifts and reach out to those who are comfortable in the digital world but who also can develop a sense of what is needed for ministry.

Yes, it does take time, and even more than that, perseverence and faith. I have had a blog for about a year and a half – and I still only have 5 visible followers through the Blogger interface, but I have to trust that others read it in a reader or through my Facebook connection. (The occasional responses I receive, either in the com-boxes, on Facebook, or in person seem to indicate readership is slowly growing.) Our diocesan Facebook group for catechetical leaders only has about 50 members and is not particularly interactive, but I know that when I put something out as a message, it does arrive in the email boxes of the members.

The Facebook experience has not only helped me interact quickly and frequently with some members of our diocesan ministry community, it has helped me form connections with others around the country in ministry that has proven valuable in communication and collaboration and given me a personal connection with them I would not otherwise have. This is well worth the investment of time – and this kind of personal interaction cannot be delegated. I cannot say enough about the value of this kind of time investment in social media. It is, as Sister Susan points out, a way to engage and support people “authentically.”

Don McCrabb September 23, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Excellent conversation. Perhaps a step forward … what is the ministerial goal that I am working on (RCIA, evangelization, youth ministry, lector formation, etc.) and how can social media help me achieve that goal? Sometimes we put the media before the message and, with apologies to Marshall McLuhan (wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_McLuhan), the medium is NOT the message.

E-mail is one to one, generally speaking. A distribution list (a group of e-mails) begins a conversation similiar to facebook but a little more cumbersome. I have just begun exploring how Facebook can help but Google Groups allows for threaded conversations. It also becomes a “home” for a group where materials can be easily shared. Nevertheless, just like in our meetings, the group needs to identify and fill roles – who sets the agenda, who is researching this piece, how is the process observer, who tracks down poor Sally that has not posted anything (because her computer crashed and she has not gotten any of the e-mails and was wondering what was happening with the group).

Having said all of that, if the social communication serves a goal, once the goal has been reached, can we end the group? Consequently, I believe we need to be intentional about beginning such a group and ending such a group. I use to tell my seminarians, how we say hello and how we say good-bye says volumes about the kind of community we are.

Last thought – at the end of the day, what are the outcomes we desire. I believe they are things like worship, prayer, faith formation, service, etc. It is not enough to track (impact studies) the number of messages sent. Rather, we have to track how people are living differently – are they becoming more actively involved in the community and coming to Church (to Andrew’s point on declining numbers), growing in the faith, serving others, and deeping their life of prayer?

Thanks for the conversation.

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